My top winter themed books:
*** (Please note: none of them have happy endings. Those with a sensitive disposition, sorry.)
The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde
Obviously the snow-shrouded garden makes this an appropriate winter-time tale, but the Christian overtones of the ending invoke the Christmas season too. Did you know the new playground in Merrion Square was inspired by the story? Bring a copy with you next time and settle down inside the Giant’s fist for storytime.
The Snow Queen
It is the bewitched mirror that gets me: distorting all good and magnifying any flaws, it is the source of the story’s evil, when it shatters and a shard of glass pierces a young boys eye. It is a bit long to be read with the toddler in one sitting, but the seven story/chapter breaks make it easy to pick up again. My favourite version is illustrated by Harry Clarke. The glorious art nouveau illustrations are a brilliant introduction to his work, which can be seen in churches all over the country.
Letters from Santa by J R.R. Tolkien
A seriously heart-warming book from the maestro of Middle Earth. This is a collection of letters to Tolkien’s children from Santa, who takes care to write back every year. Tolkien sends Santa and his troublesome reindeer on lots of adventures as the decades pass, and they are a touching record of his children’s lives as well as a reminder of his skills as an artist as well as a writer.
The Little Match Girl
One of Hans Christian Anderson’s shortest, and bleakest, fairy-tales, The Little Match Girl is a heartbreaking meditation on poverty. Disney made a beautiful animated short of this, which did not make it to mainstream release. If you know what happens at the end, you will understand why.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Complete, abridged, adapted for film by Muppets, you will be able to find a version of this that appeals to all ages. Scrooge’s comeuppance is one of the most effective moral fables of Victorian literature, while Tiny Tim would melt even a heart of stone. I plan on introducing the toddler to the story in an abridged audio version recorded by the BBC http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/xmascarol .
Variously adapted by many writers over the years, I have yet to find a good picture-book version of this Russian Santa Claus tale. Watching, Frozen the other day, however, I couldn’t help but be struck by the similarities. Is Elsa a female Father Frost?
The Snowman by Raymond Briggs
Briggs’ wordless comic-book-style classic has been much eclipsed by the animated version filmed by the BBC, but I love the slow pace of improvisation when I am forced to re-read it aloud. The panels on the board book version don’t really do justice to the grandeur of the Snowman’s death, so I would recommend getting a large paperback copy if you can.
The Night Before Christmas by Clement C Moore
I actually know this narrative poem by heart. In fact, I even wrote a song based on it for the Late Late Toy Show when I was a child. (I didn’t get on the show, but Gay Byrne did play it on his radio programme). I have several illustrated editions, my favourite of which is Arthur Rackham’s, for the slightly sinister elves. British poet Carol Ann Duffy has a lovely modern version, Another Night Before Christmas.
“The Christmas Tree posed with its lights in its arms,
newly tinselled and baubled with glittering charms,
flirting in flickers of crimson and green,
against the dull glass of the mute TV screen.”